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Still trying to slay that dragon

Don’t be a Perfectionist. It will only lead to procrastination. And you know where that gets you quickly: NOWHERE!! Life’s too short–take a chance, make a mistake. You will still be loved, maybe even more than if you insist on being perfect.

I’ve never been a fan of the telephone. Before caller ID flashed on our television screen, before it flashed on just the telephone display, back when you didn’t know who was on the other end of the line, my husband or one of our daughters would have to answer the damn thing.

As for me picking up the phone and initiating a call? Not unless there was absolutely no other means of communication available.

Apparently I haven’t outgrown this. Yesterday waiting with my mother for her appointment with her cardiologist, I looked across the hall and spotted a fellow DAR member (Darlene) who has just moved back to the area and lacks email or internet service. The only means of remote communication with her is via the telephone. Darlene: I’ve been waiting to hear back from you. Me, vaguely gesturing toward my mother: I’ve been busy, sorry. (I couldn’t very well tell her about my issues with the telephone. The mental health department is right down the hall.)

Was I confident that if I waited long enough I would run into Darlene—who lives thirty miles away from me in another state? No, I’m not that bad. I would have called her. Eventually. When I couldn’t put it off another minute. And I mean minute.

Once again, with our random meeting, I was rewarded for my procrastination.

Stuart Little

I remember the first time I procrastinated. Not everyone remembers their first time, I bet. Second grade. My “Stuart Little” book report was due. It wasn’t a written book report. We had to dress up as a character for an oral presentation to the entire class. I pretended to be sick and stayed home from school.  After a day spent in bed moaning whenever my mother checked on me, the book report went well, mouse tail and all.

Once upon a time I was a teen. I eagerly awaited the ringing of the phone followed by long conversations when I stretched the curly telephone cord to its ironed length to talk to my friends, especially boyfriends, away from the watchful ears of my parents.

Then something happened and the Perfectionist switch was turned on full-time.

I have analyzed my extreme dislike of the telephone. Clearly I am more comfortable with the written word. I can edit my response, I can let it ferment, I can make certain that all information is accurate. I can be a perfectionist when I talk to people in writing. On the phone (or in person), who knows what will—or has—come out of my mouth.

My writing battle with perfectionism and procrastination should be well known to you by now. I still am trying to slay that dragon.

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A Modest Enlightenment

“Stories about women’s enlightenment often feature damage to domestic equipment.”

I found this parenthetic remark by a modern Buddhist teacher in his commentary on the koan called A True Person of No Rank. The domestic equipment in question was a doughnut pan, whatever that is. Its newly enlightened owner rushed off to her Zen teacher to present her enlightenment, and later became a “famous teacher” herself.

I don’t know if writing is equivalent to enlightenment, but it seems to have the same effect on household efficiency. Most of the women writers I know, or whose blogs I read, complain about the pile-up of housework that occurs when they take large chunks of time to write. I notice that the more successful ones usually report ignoring the pile to do the writing. We amateurs use it as an excuse for why we didn’t write.

Both ways of dealing with dirty dishes exist, of course, but I think they miss the deeper relationship between scutwork of all kinds and writing. Scutwork is, by definition, menial and repetitive. Dish after dish into the dishwasher. Or in the office, memo after memo into the files. Sweep the floor again, just before they track more mud in.

In other words, it’s the maintenance of order. A lot of us are willing to admit doing trivial tasks to avoid facing the blank page in the typewriter. (Remember typewriters?) But why are those tasks preferable? Because doing them, we accomplish what, at the moment, we can’t accomplish with our writing. Mostly it isn’t the blank page that scares us off. It’s the roily-boily mess on the dozens or hundreds of already-filled pages that were supposed to be a book but look like a dog’s lunch. Rather than plunge into that abyss and be lost forever, we put a load of wash through.

So, the washing machine is churning. What now? Like the psychiatrist dealing with a phobia, we may inch just a little closer to the neurotic fear. The desk is in a state of chaos. Chapter outlines have fluttered to the floor, and sticky notes encroach on the keyboard. The character list has become a bookmark on which coffee-mug rings make the Olympic symbol. We straighten up the desk. In doing so, we will have to read at least some of each slip of paper, to find out which pile it belongs in. The names of characters and places fill our minds with detailed images and inch us toward our fictional world.

The next step may be the most dangerous. A lot of that paper should not have been put in the piles or the files; it should have gone into the wastebasket. The abortive outlines and mad, scribbled notes on every possible plot twist or additional detail that might conceivably, someday, end up in the final draft need to be out of your sight, if not burned to ashes. You are where you are. By all means, reread a little of the last chapter to get a good run-up to the current one. Just don’t start over. Planning and outlining were all very well in their time. Re-planning and re-re-planning are avoidance.

Your washing (or your doughnut pan) have done the trick, no smashing required. At this point, you scroll down to the blank space below your last word – and write. Feel free to make some doughnuts later.

The places that November will take me

Did bragging that I am ahead of my word count for NaNoWriMo on November 2nd jinx my progress? Seven days later, I am now over a full day’s word count (2,000+ words) behind….and feeling that I am destined to fall even further behind.

The graph on the NaNo website states that at my current writing rate, I will hit my 50,000 word goal on December 5, not November 30. As sophisticated as their website is, it doesn’t take into account hosting Thanksgiving dinner, spending five days at a resort near Cancun, Mexico, with my middle daughter and her family, and celebrating my birthday, just to name a few of the activities that I have given permission to distract me from writing.

I should hit the road writing when I get up in the morning–but I don’t. First it’s the local news (usually a repeat of the prior evening’s news) followed by the national news then trying to convince myself that I need to take my medicine and get ready for the day. All things I would do every day of every other month. Except the fact that it is November allows me to use them as excuses to–wait for it–procrastinate!!

The truth is I will take what I get out of NaNoWriMo. Any quantity of words, even in the form of an extremely rough draft, that I can add to my novel or use as the basis for the final novel in my trilogy is a bonus.

As a reminder, I am a pantser (I write without an outline though in this case I have about ten lines of an “outline” composed on Halloween evening). Today I spent hours with my husband at the hospital having his carpal tunnel syndrome evaluated. When we returned home, I started writing. The scene that developed is a medical emergency that sets up a hospital stay!

It’s possible that I am easily influenced by current events. My current events. Unfortunately, this scene is the second medical emergency/hospital stay of the book. And not part of the outline. But it is chronological. No islands when I’m participating in NaNoWriMo.

Can’t wait to find out where 50,000 words are going to take me…..that’s what I love about being a pantser.

Desire Isn’t Enough

Arizona hummingbird--my muse?

Arizona hummingbird-my muse?

I’ve moved from the bed of the dim, cozy casita to the patio adorned with blue sky and sunshine. Little birds chatter in the palo verde trees. The water fountain bubbling in the background competes with the wind chimes in the tree. Helicopters and Canada geese fly overhead while the thrum of a hummingbird draws my attention to the feeder. A ruby glitter signals this is a male. My muse, perhaps?

I have decided to read outside rather than write inside—the comfort of the bed was about to lure me to sleep at eleven in the morning. Or was it the pressure to write that caused my eyes to glaze over, my lids to droop? Yet here I am, outside, surprised to find pen and paper, rather than my Kindle, in hand. How is it that the distractions of a glorious winter morning in Arizona are allowing me to focus on my writing when I was convinced that I needed quiet and seclusion, and especially darkness, to get words, action, characters, plot, onto paper?

Excuses. I have plenty of them. The environment isn’t conducive to writing (see above), I have too many other things to do (aren’t I retired?), I don’t have the energy (it’s the medicine), my Words with Friends and Trivia Crack opponents are waiting for my next move (life or death situation to some).….you get the drift.

I can’t write on demand–the forces of the universe must be perfectly aligned before I can put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard,

I'm a winner!

I’m a winner!

with words leading to paragraphs to chapters to a book. A completed book. Yet I have won NaNoWriMo two times—a “complete” novel, 50,000 words written in the month of November! How do I reconcile this?

NaNoWriMo frees me. No inner critic sits on my shoulder or on the page. No time for self-doubt, perfection, or the fear of failure that normally trigger my procrastination. No concern over what my writing group will think. And then there’s that deadline. All I need for the other eleven months of the year is to find a way to replicate NaNoWriMo, to accept that my first draft will be a shitty first draft, and my creative juices will flow. Miraculously, I will become a published author. Though I have heard that it also takes hard work, writing every day, perseverance. Oh, and I can’t forget a dash of talent. Desire isn’t enough. And desire is all that I seem to be able to muster.

A few nights ago I was up until one in the morning reading a novel, anxious, as usual, to find out how it would end. Although it was my own 2014 NaNoWriMo submission, I had already forgotten. Now I remember how as midnight on November 30 approached those last few sentences seemingly leapt from the keyboard onto the page, surprising even me. Funny how that happens.

 

 

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